I got up to get another beer from the kitchen but I guess I stood up too fast and it triggered something in Bodhi, who jumped after me and actually nipped me, just a little bit, on my left butt cheek. I scolded him sternly, of course, but it was hard to be angry because I knew he didn’t mean it in a harmful way. Plus he was obviously mortified by what he had done. There is, in all of us, at least one instinct we let get the better of us now and then, and after having Bodhi stay with us for a couple of days, I’d learned that his instincts as a herding dog often got the better of him. Over the course of the week we ended up keeping Bod hi, we walked him and fed him and let him hang out on the floor while we went about our business. He was a part of our family, and you could tell he thought so too, because he’d taken on the responsibility of keeping our herd together.
I first noticed this before the butt nip, when I was sitting in the living room and my wife was in the kitchen. Bodhi was constantly pacing between the two rooms. Every time we were in separate rooms, he’d be visibly frustrated that the herd wasn’t together, and he’d employ any number of expressive faces intended to get me back with the herd, faces that more than anything expressed a yearning for telepathic powers. His looks would eventually grow desperate enough to convince me to relocate. On our walks it was like this too: he would get frustrated if I lagged behind or wandered ahead of him and my wife, and again he’d dip into his toolbox of expressive faces until I fell into line. He didn’t even seem to care that I obviously did it out of pity, like he knew pity isn’t always condescending, it can come from love. The most important part to Bodhi was that the family herd was together, and once it was secure, he could relax and roll in the grass, swim in the bayou, chase squirrels, or lose himself in his secret, lush world of distractions and exploratory tangents that he seemed to be able to find everywhere from the shores of the bayou to the bare kitchen floor. But he was always aware of the family.
There’s more than herding going on here, though; Bodhi is a rescue dog. He was apparently abandoned as a puppy, and I can’t think of a worse fate to force on a herding dog than isolation. In every social animal, loneliness enhances the desire to belong, and Bodhi has been programmed by millennia breeding to fiercely belong. His genes are written to feel responsibility, and that responsibility in turn rewards him with feelings of belonging and purpose. As long as Bodhi has purpose, as long as he is tending a herd, tending his herd, he is happy.
We brought him back to his house an hour before his owner was to return and he wouldn’t go inside. Over the course of the week he’d nervously accepted us as his family, and though I’m sure he missed his owner desperately, he preferred anyone to an empty house. He was trembling on the doorstep. He was physically incapable of crossing the threshold. I had to carry him into the house and I could feel his anxiety in his fur. I tried to soothe him, I tried to tell him with expressive faces that it would be ok. I found myself wishing I could tell him telepathically “It’s ok, Bodhi, she’ll be back before dark. The old herd is getting back together”. I felt bad for him; he was a part of our family even though he wasn’t our dog. He was a part of of our herd. He belonged. She returned of course and Bod hi was overjoyed in that way that dogs abandon themselves to joy. To this day he still comes visit and I can tell he knows he belongs. He knows he’s a part of this family. Everyone needs to belong, and everyone deserves to be a part of a family.
That’s what Bodhi taught me.